BREAKING: Foreign journalist shows openness to criticism

Earlier today, we posted about an article in the Independent on Gaza post-war reconstruction which included the claim that the only construction materials permitted to enter Gaza are those which come from Israeli sources.

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Top 7 anti-Jewish comments by The Independent’s Mira Bar-Hillel

Mira Bar-Hillel is a journalist for the London Evening Standard and op-ed contributor for The Independent, who’s also been interviewed by both the BBC and Sky News on the topics of Israel, British Jewry, and antisemitism – this despite the fact that Bar-Hillel acknowledged being prejudiced against Jews and has a record of engaging in anti-Jewish racism.

Here is a list of her anti-Jewish claims, which we’ve compiled during the course of frequent posts about her op-eds, media appearances and Tweets:

1. She admitted to being “prejudiced against Jews”. Here are her exact words:

The Jews of today scare me and I find it almost impossible to talk to most of them, including relatives. Any criticism of the policies of Israel – including the disgraceful treatment of Holocaust survivors as well as refugees from murderous regimes – is regarded as treason and/or anti-Semitism. Most papers and journals will not even publish articles on the subject for fear of a Jewish backlash. Goyim (gentiles) are often treated with ill-concealed contempt, yet the Jews are always the victims. Am I prejudiced against Jews? Alas, yes.

2. She complained  (in an op-ed at The Independent) that Jews smear people unfairly with the charge of antisemitism to silence and “gag into submission any critic of Israel”. 

3. She evoked  (in an op-ed at The Independent) the ugly Nazi-Zionism analogy in characterizing Israeli racism and IDF military actions in Gaza. 

4. She accused British Jews (in a series of Tweets) collectively of ‘bombing Gaza’.

5. She argued (during a BBC interview) that British Jews don’t criticize Israeli actions in Gaza out of fear of being “ex-communicated” from the Jewish community.

6. She expressed (in a series of Tweets) her belief that “the message” of Jews controlling America is “entirely true” and “increasingly so”, and that Jewish lobbyists appear to be picking up some of their ideas from the Protocols of the Elders of Zion and using them.

7. She complained (in an op-ed at The Independent) that the pro-Israel lobby is multi-tentacled. (Indy editors later removed the words “multi-tentacles”)

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Snapshot of cached version of passage from Bar-Hillel’s op-ed

As we’ve argued previously, it’s truly difficult to understand how a reputable publication like The Independent (which claims to take antisemitism seriously) can continue publishing op-eds by someone with such a well-documented history of advancing explicitly antisemitic tropes.

indy

Headline from official Independent editorial on Oct. 4, 2013, denying that the paper engages in antisemitism

 

An appeal to Owen Jones: don’t associate with anti-Semites

This is cross posted from the blog of The CST, and was originally titled ‘Opposing antisemitism: an appeal to put words into action’.

owen jones

Owen Jones

The past two months have seen the number of antisemitic incidents in Britain approach record levels Much of this has been due to extreme reactions to the conflict between Israel and Gaza that reached its latest ceasefire yesterday. This problem, and its link to extreme manifestations of anti-Israel sentiment, has been covered extensively in the British media.

Some pro-Palestinian activists have recognised this problem and spoken out against it. 

The Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC) has said that antisemitism has no place in its activities, and Owen Jones wrote a column for the Guardian in which he warned of the need to take antisemitism seriously. In particular, he wrote:

Antisemitic themes are depressingly constant: of Jews being aliens, lacking loyalty to their countries, acting as parasites, wielding disproportionate influence. Sometimes this hatred is overt, other times more subtle and pernicious.

We welcome these statements from supporters of the Palestinian cause, just as we previously welcomed PSC’s rejection of the equation of Israel with Nazi Germany. And because we consider these statements to be important and necessary, we hope and expect that the people who made them will live up to their words and the sentiments behind them.

It is for this reason that we appeal to PSC and to Owen Jones to reconsider the inclusion of Tim Llewellyn as a speaker at a PSC meeting tomorrow evening, 28th August, on “Gaza: let down by the BBC and mainstream media?” We appeal to PSC as the organiser of the meeting and to Jones as one of the other speakers.

Our objection is not to the meeting itself. We do not oppose your right to hold public meetings in support of the Palestinians, or to criticise Israel, or to critique media coverage of the conflict between the two.

Our objection is specifically to the inclusion of Llewellyn as a guest speaker on this topic because he has a record of statements that illustrate exactly what Jones warns against: themes “of Jews being aliens, lacking loyalty to their countries, acting as parasites, wielding disproportionate influence.”

For example, last year at a meeting in London that was also about media coverage of Israel, Llewellyn claimed that the BBC is intimidated by the “Jewish lobby”. When he was challenged on this by the chair of the meeting, he resisted criticism of his choice of phrase. The full exchange ran as follows and can be viewed here on the CST Blog:

Llewellyn: “Is it because… I can see it in the BBC. They’re frighten’, these people are quite aggressive, right. The Jewish Lobby is not much fun. They come at you from every direction.”

Off camera, another speaker says “no”, then, “its the pro-Israel lobby”. It is not exactly clear who says what after this, but it includes the chair Mark McDonald talking over Llewellyn, stating:

“I mean that’s a very important thing to say, that it’s not a Jewish lobby. Can I interrupt a second. It’s not a Jewish lobby. It might be a Zionist lobby. It may be a pro-Israel lobby.”

Llewellyn replies: “Yes, but they use Jewish connections to get you.”

This statement by Llewellyn was not a one-off. It fitted a long record of statements and writings that mix “Jewish” with “Zionist” while alleging that both hold undue and nefarious influence in British public life. For example, in 2006, Llewellyn wrote the following in the Foreword to a new edition of Publish It Not: The Middle East Cover-Up by Michael Adams and Christopher Mayhew:

No alien polity has so successfully penetrated the British government and British institutions during the past ninety years as the Zionist movement and its manifestation as the state of Israel…the Zionists have manipulated British systems as expertly as maestros, here a massive major chord, there a minor refrain, the audience, for the most part, spellbound.

…this cuckoo in the nest of British politics…

… Israel had worked its spells well, with a lot of help from its friends: these lined the benches of parliament, wrote the news stories and editorials, framed the way we saw and heard almost everything about the Middle East on TV, radio and in the press. History, the Bible, Nazi Germany’s slaughter of the Jews, Russian pogroms, the Jewish narrative relayed and parlayed through a thousand books, films, TV plays and series, radio programmes, the skills of Jewish writers, diarists, memoirists, artists and musicians, people like us and among us, all had played their part.

…the fervent Zionist Labour MPs, some of them little better than bully-boys, Richard Crossman (not a Jew), Ian Mikardo, Maurice Edelman, Emmanuel “Manny” Shinwell, Sidney Silverman, Konni Zilliacus et al, are, mercifully, not only no longer with us but have not been replaced, not in such virulent form.

… the Union of Jewish Students, which elbows and induces Zionistically inclined undergraduates towards influential positions in British public life, especially the media, the banking sector and information technology.

Llewellyn mixes “Zionist” with “Jewish”, describing both as “alien” to Britain; and alleges undue and negative influence and manipulation of the media, politics and “the banking sector”. These allegations all have clear antecedents in antisemitic conspiracy theories.

Another example: in 2004, Llewellyn was quoted in the Jewish Chronicle as describing former US ambassador Dennis Ross in these terms:

He also denounced broadcasters who invited the “insidious” former US ambassador to the Middle East Denis Ross, without fully identifying him.

Mr Llewellyn said: “What a lovely Anglo-Saxon name! But Denis Ross is not just a Jew, he is a Zionist, a long-time Zionist… and now directs an Israeli-funded think tank in Washington. He is a Zionist propagandist.”

The suggestion that broadcasters should identify an interviewee as “a Jew”, lest their viewers be fooled by an “Anglo-Saxon name”, is scurrilous and prejudiced.

In 2012, Llewellyn wrote of

massive media distortion, and … Zionist penetration and manipulation of our institutions – the media, universities, local education, political parties…

He went on to describe as Britain’s

real enemies… the ambitious and greedy British politicians and insidious political influence, in this case spawned by an alien state and strengthened by its friends in our midst, people who put Israel’s interests above that of their own nation.

(From The Battle for Public Opinion in Europe: Changing Perceptions of the Palestine-Israel Conflict, eds. Daud Abdullah & Ibrahim Hewitt, not online). Again, this echoes the classical antisemitic allegation of ‘dual loyalty’, whereby British Jews are accused of lacking loyalty to the country of their birth.

If the important and welcome statements by PSC, Owen Jones and others about their opposition to antisemitism and determination to exclude it from pro-Palestinian activism have real meaning, then there should be no place for Tim Llewellyn at a PSC meeting. This is not an abstract argument: the sharp increase in antisemitism in Britain in recent weeks demonstrates that fact. Words lead to actions, good and bad. We now invite PSC and Owen Jones to put their valuable and worthy statements and principles into practice. A discussion of media coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict must not give room to those who believe that there is a Zionist conspiracy to control, manipulate or influence the British media, politics, banking and education, as Tim Llewellyn has suggested. Nor should pro-Palestinian activism be a home for those who believe that Jews are an alien presence, disloyal to Britain, who change their names to disguise their true loyalties.

Put your words into action, and remove Tim Llewellyn from your platform.

Guardian fauxtography: Chris McGreal pulls a Jon Donnison

You no doubt recall when, during the last war in Gaza in 2012, BBC’s Jon Donnison tweeted a photo of a girl with the title “Pain in Gaza”, to which Donnison added his own commentary – “Heartbreaking”.  It of course turned out that the genuinely heartbreaking image was actually from Syria and not from Gaza – a mistake for which Donnison subsequently apologized. 

Well, within the last hour, the Guardian’s Chris McGreal just retweeted the following, to his nearly 4,000 followers, a Tweet by Sarah Leah Whitson, Executive Director, Middle East and North Africa Division, for Human Rights Watch.

syria

However, this photo of a boy (8 year old Eid) holding his new prosthetic leg was taken in Syria, not Gaza.

pcrf

The article posted at the site of Palestine Children’s Relief Fund explains:

Thanks to the support of donors all over the world, the hard work of the PCRF Jordan Chapter, and Mr. Charl Stenger, an orthotics specialist working in Dubai, 8-year-old Eid from Syria got his new artificial legs after losing them from a bombing earlier this year (his mother was killed and his 5-year-old sister also lost a leg).  The PCRF is dedicated to helping any child in need, regardless of their nationality, religion or ethnicity.  

No doubt, apologies from McGreal and Whitson will be forthcoming.

UPDATE: Whitson deleted her tweet and wrote this:

delete

No word yet from McGreal.

Guardian brings back Jihad Misharawi photo to illustrate ‘Israeli attacks’

Hamas terrorists fired approximately 2270 rockets at Israeli civilians since the beginning of the current war. We know that a percentage of mortars and Grad rockets have fallen short and landed in Gazan territory – quite possibly (based on past experiences) injuring or killing Palestinian civilians. You may recall that most UK media outlets accused Israel of firing a missile, during the 2012 war in Gaza, which killed the 11 month old son of BBC Arabic cameraman Jihad Misharawi.

old

Elder of Ziyon and BBC Watch (and other blogs) were among those who examined the evidence and suggested that Omar Misharawi was actually more than likely killed by an errant Palestinian rocket.

Their skepticism was well-founded.

On March 6th 2013 the United Nations Human Rights Council issued an advance version of its report on the November war and noted the following about the death of Ahmad Misharawi.

“On 14 November, a woman, her 11-month-old infant, and an 18-year-old adult in Al-Zaitoun were killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.” [emphasis added]

Following communication with CiF Watch in the days following the release of the UNHRC report, quite a few UK media outlets corrected their original stories, and noted that a Palestinian rocket likely caused the death of Misharawi’s son. 

greenslade

So, we were somewhat surprised to say the least to see the following photo accompany a batch of Guardian letters published on July 23rd. (Note the caption below the photo.) 

masharawiThey decided to use a photo of an infant who was killed by an ‘errant’ Palestinian rocket to illustrate the view – expressed by one letter writer – that “Israel’s attacks are an extension of military rule and collective punishment by a brutal apartheid state”.

Evidently, old, disproven media smears against Israel never actually die.  

They simply get recycled at the Guardian. 

Did Jon Snow engage in Jon Donnison-style fauxtography? (UPDATED)

Channel 4 News presenter Jon Snow may have just made the same mistake that the BBC’s Jon Donnison made back in 2012, when, you likely recall, he tweeted a photo of a girl with the title “Pain in Gaza”, to which Donnison added his own commentary – “Heartbreaking”.

However, it turned out that the genuinely heartbreaking image was actually from Syria and not from Gaza – a mistake for which Donnison subsequently apologized. 

The following was Tweeted by Jon Snow at 12:24 AM, July 24, which included a link to his blog at Mashable, in a post tiled “Will I die tonight Daddy‘?

tweet by snow

Here’s the original post at Snow’s blog (at Mashable), which the tweet linked to:

cached

Then, a little more than an hour later, someone Tweeted the following in response:

syria

 

Later, we saw this:

first tweet

 

Snow then deleted the photo from blog, and it now includes the following:

UPDATE 4:02AM ET: Due to an editing error, an earlier version of this story featured an incorrect photo.

However, the damage was already done, as the Tweet (with the original erroneous photo) went somewhat viral, garnering over 4000 mentions in 24 hours.

Interestingly, we were able to trace the original photo (the one Snow deleted) back to Getty Images, and it contains the following caption:

Injured Palestinians at the Al Shifa Hospital

 So, is the boy from Syria, as Snow claimed in his apology Tweet, or from Gaza?  

At this stage it’s unclear exactly what kind of “editing error” the Channel 4 News presenter made.

UPDATE: It get’s stranger. Snow has deleted his apology tweet, and his blog post now includes the original photo that they had taken down, and they’ve noted the following:

update

Indy’s Mira Bar-Hillel complains on the BBC about Jews and CiF Watch trolls!

Briefly, here are a few highlights from our posts about Mira Bar-Hillel, a columnist at the Independent:

  • She complained that Jews (per the Livingstone Formulation) often smear people unfairly with the charge of antisemitism to “gag into submission any critic of Israel”.
  • She evoked Nazi Germany in characterizing Israeli racism and IDF military actions in Gaza.
  • She recently accused British Jews (collectively) of ‘bombing Gaza’.
  • She admitted to being prejudiced against Jews.

In the following BBC interview with Bar-Hillel, she claims that Jews don’t criticize Israeli actions in Gaza out of fear of being “ex-communicated” from the Jewish community, and criticizes this blog for ‘trolling’ her.

You can listen to the whole interview here:

//

(See recent post at Harry’s Place about Bar-Hillel, here)

The Guardian moves Modi’in to Palestine

The Guardian published a letter on July 18th by an Israeli from Modi’in, a city in the center of the country where this writer also lives.

west bank

However, Modi’in is fully within Israel, west of the Green Line. (Within the greater Modi’in-Maccabim-Reut municipality, Maccabim is located in what’s known as no-man’s land, but Mr. Youngerwood does not live in Maccabim, but in Modi’in proper.)

Interestingly, Modi’in was correctly placed in Israel by the BBC in a July 18th article in which Mr. Youngerwood was quoted in a story featuring Palestinian and Israeli views on the current IDF ground operation.

bbc

In fairness, the Guardian’s latest geographic “editing error” is of course small potatoes as, you may recall, they used to claim that Tel Aviv was Israel’s capital. 

Read Adam Levick’s latest article at The Jewish Chronicle

Here are the first few paragraphs of Adam Levick’s latest article at The Jewish Chronicle:

On Monday night, Israel formally accepted the Egyptian proposed ceasefire calling for an end to “all hostilities” between Hamas and Israel from the following morning.

Though the IDF halted its military operations, Hamas rejected calls to stop attacks and fired dozens of rockets at Israeli cities during the declared truce. After six hours of continued attacks, Israel announced it would resume its military operation and began attacking Hamas targets.

Despite this straightforward series of events, some media outlets found a way to obscure Hamas’s culpability, with the Guardian leading the pack. Even when the paper acknowledged that Hamas was still firing rockets, they somehow concluded that the “ceasefire was holding” and later managed to blame Israel’s eventual retaliation for causing it to collapse.

After the paper was criticised on Twitter, Guardian deputy editor Phoebe Greenwood defended the coverage, arguing in one Tweet that since Hamas never agreed to the ceasefire, their rocket attacks did not represent a violation of its terms.

Read the rest of the article here.

Guardian’s war blog uncritically cites commentator who likens Israel to a child molester

Like any live blog on a serious news site, the Guardian’s running blog of the Gaza War is, presumably, supposed to post significant events and snippets of relevant commentary relating to the conflict. Yet the blog’s editor, Matthew Weaver, somehow thought the following odious smear (posted about 30 minutes ago) by Alexi Sayle (Author, comedian, and Palestine Solidarity Campaign Patron) was newsworthy and relevant to the debate about the conflict.

js

Jimmy Savile is the late BBC broadcaster who, an investigation determined, was a predatory sex offender who assaulted hundreds of children over the course of decades.

During the course of the interview (below) he also likens Israel to a psychopath.

In the past, we’ve wondered – when responding to Guardian decisions to legitimize (and sometimes endorse) the most reprehensible charges against Israel – how much lower they could possibly go. Though this was of course a rhetorical question, their editors’ decision today to post such a vicious smear demonstrates that their institutional hostility towards the Jewish State includes few if any moral boundaries.

Mike Tyson, Toddlers, and ‘Balance': A response to Owen Jones

Here are the first few paragraphs from a Times of Israel op-ed by Shany Mor:

There is much to learn from Owen Jones’ much retweeted Guardian post last week about the alleged “imbalance” in Israel’s favor at the BBC and, by implication, the rest of Western media and politics, but not necessarily what Jones intends.

Jones extrapolates from one solitary headline on the BBC’s website two discernible arguments. Neither argument stands up to the barest of scrutiny, but let’s start with the headline.

“Israel under renewed Hamas attack” was the “perverse” headline that the BBC ran from which Jones deduces the “macabre truth that Israeli life is deemed by the western media to be worth more than a Palestinian life.” If this were the only headline the BBC ran on the violent escalation over the past week, Jones might have a point. But it wasn’t even the only headline that day. All week, there have been from five to ten stories on the fighting. Some stories are filed from Israel and focus on the Gazan rocket attacks; some are filed from Gaza and focus on Israeli air and naval attacks; others are diplomatic stories or personal stories or focus on one particular incident which the BBC editors seem to think is interesting or noteworthy. The story Jones references was filed from Ashqelon, a city in southern Israel that absorbed a large number of rocket attacks from nearby Gaza. The day before the report, Hamas in Gaza had gone from a policy of tolerating and encouraging other militant groups in the Strip to fire rockets at Israeli civilian centers, as it had for the previous two weeks, to actively participating in these attacks itself with its much larger, more numerous, and more sophisticated rockets. Hamas had, literally, renewed its attacks on Israel after twenty months of cease-fire. This was a significant development because it meant a large Israeli military operation would inevitably follow. This is lost on Jones who picks one headline to make a sweeping and falsifiable generalization.

Two arguments can be picked out of Jones’ short post in the Guardian. The first regards what he calls the “hierarchy of death.” As far as I can tell, Jones’ postulated hierarchy is measured as a quotient of newsworthy deaths divided by the amount press coverage generated. It’s an odd claim to through around in what poses as a pro-Palestinian piece, because by any measure the Palestinians are the beneficiaries of this hierarchy of death. Let’s stipulate that we accept Jones’ claim that there is more coverage per Israeli death than per Palestinian death (though most of this is probably accountable to the much lower death toll on the Israeli side throughout the decades of conflict, something which tells us next to nothing about the moral or normative standing of either side; see below). Coverage of violence involving Palestinians far exceeds that of Iraqis, Syrians, Somalis, Congolese. Not just in the media, but throughout the western “human rights community,” the self-appointed protectors of western rectitude for whom Israeli actions that wouldn’t even count as a rounding error in the Syrian or Iraqi civil wars — or for that matter in NATO operations in Afghanistan — regularly generate hysterical cries of “war crimes” and even “slow-motion genocide.”just a stiff letter to the editor against “collective punishment.”

Read the rest of the op-ed here.

Times of Israel editor notes Guardian’s “savage criticism” of the Jewish State

Ilan Ben Zion, political editor of Times of Israel, noted, in a column yesterday, the “savage criticism” of Israel in the UK media (especially at the Guardian) in coverage of the war with Hamas, especially in comparison with news outlets “on the other side of the pond”. 

After highlighting some of the sympathetic coverage towards Israel which has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Ben Zion turned to the UK media, focusing on Times of London, as well as the Guardian:

Across the pond in London, The Times’ lead coverage placed its focus on the Palestinian civilian death toll, which “continued to spiral,” and the “mounting international pressure on Israeli leaders not to risk a potentially devastating ground offensive.” The paper also alluded to a degree of reluctance in the Israeli government to follow through with its pronouncement that it’d levy a heavy price on Hamas.

“Domestic support for a ground offensive is strong, with feelings running high after the killings of the three religious students in the West Bank,” the paper reported. “The need to answer that outrage may have helped fuel political rhetoric about a blistering offensive in Gaza without a clear commitment to actually undertake one.”

Ben Zion then turned to the Guardian:

Britain’s The Guardian featured an opinion piece by Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative, in which he despairs that the world is standing by once again amid a “campaign of collective punishment against Palestinian citizens across the occupied territories.” He calls for international intervention to restrain the IDF, and urges world leaders to stop the escalation of violence “and prevent further slaughter.”

He says the asymmetry of the conflict is the root of its violence, but makes only passing reference to the relentless rocket attacks on Israeli citizens.

“The fact remains that an illegal military occupation has been in place for 47 years,” he says. “It is one that has transformed life for Palestinians into an oppressive system of apartheid. Without changing that, nothing else will change.”

One of the paper’s most popular commentaries (as of the time of this writing) compared the current conflict between Israel and Gaza to “Mike Tyson punching a toddler,” and decried the BBC’s coverage of the three-day conflict.

“The media coverage hardly reflects the reality,” writes Owen Jones. “A military superpower armed with F-15 fighter jets, AH-64 Apache helicopters, Delilah missiles, IAI Heron-1 drones and Jericho II missiles (and nuclear bombs, for that matter), versus what [British Prime Minister] David Cameron describes as a ‘prison camp’ firing almost entirely ineffective missiles.”

No opinion pieces from the other side of the spectrum featured prominently on the British paper’s website

In addition to the examples cited by the Times of Israel editor, a few other articles and op-eds at the Guardian are worth noting:

  • An op-ed by Daniel Levy, a New Israel Fund board member and Senior Research Fellow at the New America Foundation, was published at ‘CiF’ which defended Hamas – characterizing the Islamist group as reasonable, non-radical, “mainstream” nationalist movement.
  • letter, signed by the Guardian’s usual list of anti-Zionist activists, was published which accused Israel of “ethnically cleansing the indigenous population“, and actually criticized the BBC for its pro-Israel coverage!
  • Finally, a cartoon by Martin Rowson is emblematic of the media group’s coverage to date.  Rowson used Wimbledon as a theme to contrast the Israeli Goliath with the benign ‘rocket lobbing’ Hamasnik. 

martin rowson

Whilst the Guardian’s egregiously one-sided coverage of the war isn’t at all surprising , it’s always instructive nonetheless to note the widespread notoriety of a London daily aptly characterized by Jeffrey Goldberg as the”English-language newspaper least friendly to Israel on earth”.

Read Adam Levick’s latest article in The Jewish Chronicle

Here are the first few paragraphs of Adam Levick’s latest article in the Jewish Chronicle:

“You have to keep an eye on who you are following on Twitter and where the picture you’re tweeting came from,” warned a BBC journalist in a short video that accompanied an article posted on BBC Trending, a section on the corporation’s website which selects stories that are popular on social media around the world.

The article was entitled, “Are #GazaUnderAttack images accurate?”, and looked at images shared on social media by pro-Palestinian activists during the current war in Gaza.

The short post focused on the above Twitter hashtag, which, the BBC noted, “has been used hundreds of thousands of times, often to distribute pictures claiming to show the effects of the air strikes”.

The BBC warned that a “BBC Trending analysis has found that some date as far back as 2009 and others are from conflicts in Syria and Iraq”.

Read the rest of the article here.

Sunday Times journo gets caught with a Twitter faxutography

Courtesy of blogger JudgeDan, here’s a tweet by Sunday Times ‘award winning’ reporter Hala Jaber:

faux

 As Dan pointed out, the photo was from the Gaza War in November 2012.

Here’s her apology:

Though not quite at the level of the fautography of the BBC’s Jon Donnison exposed by BBC Watch in 2012, Jaber’s carelessness represents more evidence of the necessity of monitor groups and citizen journalists holding journalists accountable to professional, accurate and ethical reporting within the social media and more traditional media.   

Fighting back against disruptions of Israeli performances and lectures in the UK

A guest post by Jonathan  D.C. Turner, Chair of UK Lawyers for Israel

As many readers will know, performances and lectures by Israelis in the UK have frequently been disrupted in recent years. In one serious example, a concert by the Israeli Philharmonic Orchestra at the Royal Albert Hall was interrupted by shouting and singing to such an extent that a simultaneous broadcast on BBC Radio 3 was taken off-air.

Videos show the threatening atmosphere and the risk of a serious breakdown of order which could have resulted in mass casualties and this was also confirmed by eye-witness accounts.

 

A BBC report quoted Theartsdesk.com music reviewer:

“The whole hall was groaning and trying to slow clap them out. It had the atmosphere of a riot”.

Another eye-witness wrote:

“This created a most tense and hostile atmosphere throughout the several disruptions. Each time the chanting and shouting broke out, my eleven-year-old grandson became very upset, and kept saying he wanted to go home. The reaction of the vast majority of music-lovers, who wanted to hear the music in peace, created an understandable sense of frustration and anger throughout the Hall and posed a significant threat to public order. From where I was sitting in the circle, it occurred to me how easily an enraged member of the audience could have pushed one or more of those protesting in the front row over the balcony.”

Another “witnessed elderly gentlemen who wished nothing else, but to enjoy an evening of music by one of the most prominent orchestras led by its distinguished maestro, having to argue with Neanderthals to such extent that one of them felt the need to physically try to remove them from the seats resulting in slaps on the heads.” Another “felt extremely intimidated by the whole experience”.

Performances by the Jerusalem Quartet, Batsheva and Habima have also been disrupted, as have lectures by the Israeli Ambassador, HE Daniel Taub; the former Deputy Ambassador, Talya Lador-Fresher; and law lecturer Solon Solomon.

The problem is not confined to Israelis. Other victims have included Mohamed El-Nabawy, whose lecture on the challenges faced by Egypt to a meeting of the SOAS Palestinian Society was stormed by Muslim Brotherhood thugs; David Willetts MP, talking to students at Cambridge; and Professor Alex Callinicos, whose lecture at Warwick University was abandoned due to disruption by an unusual combination of neo-Nazis and feminists.

Those who wish to criticise Israel or anyone else have an important right of freedom of expression. However, when they disrupt performances and lectures by others, they are interfering with the freedom of expression of those performers and speakers, and the rights of those who wish to hear them. Preventing such disruption is not abridging freedom of expression; it is protecting it.
But can anything be done about it?

Disrupting a performance or lecture in the UK is normally a criminal offence, called “aggravated trespass”. This offence is committed when a trespasser carries out acts intended to disrupt a lawful activity. Even if the disrupters had tickets to the performance or lecture, they are trespassers because they are admitted to hear and watch, not to disrupt.

However, prosecutions are rare. The Police have other things to do and limited budgets. They also take the view that they should not prosecute unless requested by the “victim”, and seem to think that the victim is the owner of the premises, not the audience, performers or speaker. In practice, owners are usually not too concerned: they simply avoid similar bookings in future, which achieves the objective of the disrupters.

Private prosecutions are difficult and onerous. The elements of the offence have to be proved to the criminal standard and in accordance with criminal procedures, resulting in disproportionate expense.

Civil remedies are also problematic. Owners of venues could sue for trespass but in practice they are not sufficiently interested.

Members of the audience, performers and speakers do not appear to have any right of action in civil proceedings against the disrupters. They cannot claim for causing loss by unlawful means, because the House of Lords has held that the unlawful means must interfere with the freedom of a third-party to deal with them. Nor can they claim for conspiracy to cause loss by unlawful means, even if there was (and they can prove) a conspiracy, since the authorities appear to say that the loss must be financial, rather than loss of enjoyment or damage to feelings. Nor can they argue that the disrupters have procured a breach of their contracts, because their contracts have not been broken.

In these circumstances, the disrupters rightly reckon that they will not be called to account, and so they continue.

However, there is a simple answer which UK Lawyers for Israel is urging the UK Parliament to adopt: a three-line amendment to give those affected by an aggravated trespass a civil right of action for damages and an injunction. If this is passed, it will be possible for members of the audience, performers and speakers to bring straightforward claims against disrupters in the small claims court.

To be sure, some of the disrupters live on benefits and think they have nothing to lose. But others do have jobs and money, and will think twice if they have to pay several hundred pounds compensation in total to a number of those affected.

Government ministers have said that this amendment will not add to the existing remedies. They are wrong, for the reasons summarised above. And even if they are right, the amendment will do no harm; it will merely add three lines to the many extant volumes of UK legislation confirming the rights of those affected to bring civil claims against those who disrupt performances and lectures.

Readers who wish to support this amendment should contact their MPs.

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